Touchet School District budget woes continue

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TOUCHET _ It was bad news followed by more bad news at the Touchet School Board meeting Thursday, as Superintendent Dan McDonald told the board the district is again short over $17,000.

A large property owner was late paying taxes, resulting in the school district receiving about half as much tax revenue in May as anticipated, McDonald said.

Adding to the financial woes is the enrollment count, which continues to slide and has never met the 296 full-time equivalent students the budget is based on. May's count is 284 FTE students.

The board then accepted McDonald's resignation, which will be effective at the end of June. McDonald announced two months ago he has accepted a position with the Soap Lake, Wash., school district, but had not formally submitted his resignation.

The board plans to replace McDonald with an interim superintendent. A candidate was interviewed Wednesday in closed session, but the board plans to interview more candidates, McDonald said.

The 2010-2011 budget will be built on 280 full-time enrollment, which is 10 fewer students than the 2005-06 budget was based upon.

The new budget will be spare, McDonald said. There is a $280,448 difference between this year's projected revenue and last year's listed expenses, he said.

Principal Elissa Tinder presented a plan for saving, which includes changing to a six-period day at the secondary level, eliminating small classes and providing daily time for professional development without impacting class time.

At the elementary level, proposed changes include eliminating morning recess, with students having noon recess before lunch instead of after. Fifth-grade band would be reduced to once a week.

Several teachers and classified staff have received notification they may not be rehired, although information about number and grade level was not presented at the board meeting, and was unavailable Friday.

As it was last month the library where the board meets was packed with parents, staff and teachers. One community member expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of checks and balances between the board and the administration.

Another speaker questioned why the district has not had good reports from the state audit reports in the past six years.

McDonald mailed a three-page letter dated May 18 to boxholders in Touchet, and copies were available at the meeting.

In the letter McDonald stressed the decline in student numbers will have "an immense effect on the overall budget for 2010-2011 and beyond."

Although end-of-year enrollment numbers weren't available, September enrollment since 2005 has ranged from 297 FTE to a high of 308 in 2008 and 293 FTE at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year.

McDonald also addressed in the letter the animosity that has grown between the administration and staff, in part because of the cost of an attorney hired by the board and superintendent.

"Who pushed the district into a corner so that it has no other choice but to defend itself? The district did not, nor has it filed a legal suit of any kind against any person or association within this district or community. It was not the district's fault that we made in-school time for students a priority," he wrote.

"The District believes that change is growth producing, and hopefully, those who have stayed too long will find it time to leave so a new legacy can be built and the students and parents in this community will be witness to staff members who care more about student growth and development than about personal vendettas," McDonald said.

McDonald urged everyone employed in education to take a personal responsibility for the education of Touchet's children.

The next board meeting is June 24.

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